The takes are already rolling in on Confederate, a forthcoming HBO series from the showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — but all you really need to know is that this show sounds stupid as hell.
Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, is massively popular and this season’s premiere boasted the show’s highest ratings ever, so it was inevitable that HBO would greenlight whatever Benioff and Weiss wanted to make next. But Confederate is not the move. The premise? What if the South won the Civil War and… slavery still existed?! This is white nonsense.
HBO announced Confederate today and provided the following description: “CONFEDERATE chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”
Even if we ignore the fact that this sounds a hell of a lot like the present — Klan membership and hate crimes in America are on the rise, the prison industrial complex is basically the government’s substitute for slavery, and Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke are far from the only ones repping the Confederate flag — white people love to imagine a world where “the Confederacy won.” It’s been the subject of many pieces of fiction, from If the South Had Won the Civil War to The Confederate States of America. But Americans barely know enough about what actually happened during slavery as is, so how about HBO just pick up the canceled series Underground instead of this?
Then there’s the fact that pretty much the only black people in Game of Thrones are slaves and Benioff and Weiss really like writing bad rape scenes. Do we need another show from them where the black people are slaves and the threat of rape from slaveowners is ever-present?
One positive note regarding the series is that black writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman will also serve as executive producers and writers on the series, and Game of Thrones is indeed a show I look forward to every week. But this harebrained idea serves as yet another reminder that the imaginations of white men can be incredibly myopic. On their idea for the series, Benioff and Weiss said: “We have discussed Confederate for years, originally as a concept for a feature film. But our experience on Thrones has convinced us that no one provides a bigger, better storytelling canvas than HBO. There won’t be dragons or White Walkers in this series, but we are creating a world, and we couldn’t imagine better partners in world-building than Nichelle and Malcolm, who have impressed us for a long time with their wit, their imagination and their Scrabble-playing skills.”
You know why Black Panther is receiving such an overwhelmingly positive response? Because it embraces the concept of Afrofuturism — imagining black people in futuristic or sci-fi worlds that heavily incorporate elements of black culture into the fantasy. Fantasy and sci-fi movies, television shows, and novels tend to feature overwhelmingly white casts of characters, e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, and the upcoming Valerian and Blade Runner 2049. It’s hard enough finding studios and networks that care about depicting human black characters in a non-sci-fi series. But for sci-fi and fantasy, it’s next to impossible. HBO can imagine robots and dragons but it struggles to imagine black people who aren’t slaves? I mean damn, we finally had an Oscars ceremony where a black film won Best Picture (Moonlight) without having slaves or servants in it. But I guess HBO’s eyes are still fixated on 12 Years a Slave.
At a recent Paley Center conversation with Insecure creator Issa Rae and HBO President of Programming Casey Bloys, Rae pressed Bloys on whether or not her series was the beginning of a new diversity initiative for HBO. Insecure represents a revolutionary step forward for the network in how it depicts the lives of black women and men, and the network — with its wealth of resources — has the potential to once again shape the television landscape the way they did with Sex and the City and The Sopranos. Instead, their next big series is Confederate.
If that’s the future of television, keep it.